L&S Stewardship: How to Thank Your Donors

This document is a resource of best practices for thanking the donors that give monetarily to your program and department funds.


UW–Madison receives incredible financial support from individuals, charitable organizations, and industry partners that sustains vital campus and departmental operations. To maintain our relationship with these constituents, we want to celebrate and thank them regularly for their gifts.

 The Wisconsin Foundation & Alumni Association (WFAA) has several processes in place when monetary gifts are made to UW–Madison. Donors immediately receive an electronic receipt and a hard-copy receipt in the mail after their gift is processed (learn more about the gift processing procedure here). Additionally, stewardship (thank you) letters are regularly sent from the WFAA. 

 All campus departments and programs should personally and promptly thank donors, as their gifts directly impact students and programs. This guide provides a brief overview of industry-standard best practices and a step-by-step monthly procedure for stewarding donors.

Best practices for stewardship

  • Thank donors promptly. Send thank you letters within four weeks of receiving a gift. Do not include another ask for gifts in your stewardship letter.
  • Email stewardship letters are fine! You might consider sending hard copy letters to donors who give over a particular threshold (>$500), but email messages to small-gift donors are acceptable. Gifts over $1000 should receive a personal thank you letter or phone call from the department chair.
  • Be brief and focus on the donor’s impact. Stewardship letters should quickly get to the point: how did the donor’s gift impact your mission. Use “you” language rather than we; eg, “Your gift provided support for student scholarships,” instead of “With your gift, we provided student scholarships.” See examples below.
  • Personalize stewardship letters. Has a donor given consistently for 5, 10, 20, or more years? Recognize those milestones when thanking them for their most recent gift. 
  • Recognize tribute gifts and gifts given in memoriam. If a donor provides a gift in memory of someone, recognize that tribute in your stewardship letter.

Stewardship execution: step-by-step

Create a schedule
Create a rhythm for when you will send thank you letters to fold it into your regular business. This could be once per month, twice per month, etc. Best practice is to send thank you letters within 14 days of the gift being received but no more than four weeks after receiving a gift.

Run the Donor Acknowledgement Report (DAR)
The DAR allows you to see demographic and giving information for the donors within your department or program including

  • Name,
  • Home address,
  • Email contact (if provided),
  • Phone number,
  • UW degree and year, and
  • Number of gifts to your unit and the designated fund.

For instruction on how to run the report, click here.

Prepare letter
Write a brief, meaning message to your donors. If you are sending a hard copy letter, include a hand-written note of gratitude and signature.

View examples here:

Merge DAR and letter
Using mail merge in Excel, merge the appropriate fields from your DAR into your letter.

Complete DAR and email to WFAA
The DAR includes two columns that need to be filled out each time you send thank you letters: Acknowledgement Type (Column H) and Acknowledgement Date (Column I). This provides the WFAA with information to add to the donor record in our database, ABE. Once the report is filled out, attach and email it to help@uwadvancement.org with the subject “Acknowledgement.”

Who to Contact 

Creating a stewardship strategy: scott.carter@wisc.edu

Donor Acknowledgement Report: help@uwadvancement.org

Keywordsstewardship, advancement, communications, fundraising, development,   Doc ID34626
OwnerCarlin S.GroupL&S KB
Created2013-10-21 13:46:43Updated2024-02-01 11:40:28
SitesL&S KB
Feedback  1   0